Justus Productions

Kontamination, Achtung! Cthulhu Adventure

From: Modiphius Entertainment Ltd
Reviewed by: Ron W McClung

Kontamination is a new RPG Adventure/One Shot from Modiphius Entertainment Ltd.

When I try to run a published adventure, I sometimes find myself asking if the adventure was written with the GM in mind.  For me, it’s important to convey the story of the adventure to the players in the most succinct and clear fashion with minimal page turning and book diving as possible.  However, not everyone retains the same information at the same rate and every GM is different.  So what is the way to best write an adventure?  Keep it as simple as possible in terms of wording and stat blocking, and make key aspects of the adventure easy to reference if at all possible.

Kontamination is an adventure with the intention of being a one shot.  It was written by a guy who admits he has never played a table top RPG.  Sam Richards is the writer and also the creator of Tweet RPG, a web site that has since changed to StoryMechs.com.  From the web site: “Tweet RPG is a free online role-playing experience, which utilizes Twitter to provide users with an innovative new way of enjoying text-based adventures.”  Kontamination was written using the Tweet RPG means of crowd-creation.  I only found this out after running it and found that very surprising and innovative.

This is also one of the few times I actually ran an adventure I am going to review.  I had 8 players (which was more than I really wanted) on a Saturday afternoon, and with that many, the game ran a little long. But I found it very adaptable.  The game itself was a great success.  I had also run the first adventure released for Achtung! Cthulhu called Three Kings, and Kontamination could not be more different in a lot of ways.

From page #3:
“What’s good need not be secret, and what’s secret is not good.” – Unknown

The adventure is a very contained and focused story that has a lot of flexibility in each encounter but is restricted in the confines of a specific mission.  In fact, the characters are taking on a secret mission within an actual historical mission.  The adventure boldly puts the players in the roles of German soldiers, and if you are using the pre-generated characters, the writer provides hooks into the adventure that act as manipulation points, giving the characters more motivation to accomplish the mission other than simply they are loyal Nazis.  The pre-generated characters are in fact not necessarily loyal Nazis but rather people trying to survive the horrible war.  The GM is encouraged to create characters in the same vein if he does not use the pre-generated characters.

It takes place during the Battle of the Bulge or from the German’s perspective, the Ardennes Offensive.  During this time, the Germans conducted a covert action called Operation Greif, where German soldiers dressed in Allied uniforms and using Allied equipment caused disruption and confusion behind enemy lines.  The Reich Main Security Office has gotten intelligence of a super secret operation within the Operation Greif was being conducted by a super secret group called Nachtwulf and not even the Security Office knew of them.  This concerns the lead of the Reich Main Security Office and the players are brought in to act as operatives to investigate.

This is where the adventure first gets a little challenging for the GM and the players.  Although it does not seem like a big thing, it can be confusing to those not prepared for it.  The players have a real name, an operative name within Operation Greif and then later they get their Allied soldier name.  The pre-generated characters smartly placed the name they were going to use the most as their primary name – the Operation Greif name.  The Allied name was rarely used when we played and their real name was never used.  I made up flash cards with the Allied names and ranks and randomly handed them out during the mission and took them back when it was not needed.

It is also gets a little challenging in the equipment department.  The group should start out with just the bare necessities but they switch between Allied equipment and German equipment throughout the adventure.  If keeping up with who has what gun when is important, I recommend making flash cards with game stats of all the available weapons and handing them out at the right times.  This also makes the quartermaster scene in the beginning a lot more fun.

From page # 3:
“The Second World War is drawing to a close, but combat still rages on.”

I won’t get into the detail of the overall plot beyond the intro, but it is well defined in three key episodes and those are broken down into a number of scenes.  The strict structure of the military mission does have the tendency to feel like the GM is railroading the players, but in playing it never really did feel like that.  I think the players felt like at any time they could take control of their characters and do what they wanted but the backgrounds and hooks provided in the pre-gens helped keep them on track.  They all stayed within character and stayed true to their motivations.

My only major complaint was the way the adventure was written.  Although well written with a lot of painstaking detail (which I enjoyed), it was not quite written with the GM in mind.  I found myself struggling at points to find the right stats for the bad guys, or the right text I needed to read to the characters.  I do not like to do a lot of reading to the characters, but in a one shot the key moments that might require reading is the intro.  Although they did provide that “Read to the characters” text for the Reich Main Security Office mission introduction, they needed to also do the same thing when given the mission instructions for the Nachtwulf mission (the mission within which they were to accomplish their own secret mission).  There are key aspects that needed to be clearly stated to the characters and I would have preferred to have succinct and precise text to read to them.

The creatures they end up facing are soldiers manipulated by a Mythos-based apparatus.  Instead of providing stats for the creatures, the creature was provided in the form of a template to apply to whomever ends up having the procedure applied.  Although creative and interesting, to run this as a one shot, especially if you want to run this as a one shot in a convention, time is of the essence.  In combat, I do not want to be referencing back and forth between the template and the character that was converted.  That slows combat down and in most RPGs, combat is slow enough.  What I recommend a GM doing is prepping a few typical “converted” bad guys ahead of time so they are ready for combat.

The characters also are part of an overall plot that basically treats them as expendables.  There is enough plot development before the final episode that the players may conclude as much before they get to the epic climactic battle that happens at the end.  In my case, the players smartly figured it out and took matters in their own hands, short circuiting the overall story.  The GM should be prepared for that if they have good players.  The intended battle at the end of the adventure that I never got to is absolutely epic.  I hate that we never got to it (although my game ended well) because it is set up very well.

When diving into an adventure based in a setting like Achtung! Cthulhu – non-fictional historical meets fiction horror – I wonder what the author is going to focus on.  Basing something in something historical, you run the risk of turning your session into a history lesson.  And, although I am World War 2 history buff, I never assume all my players are too.  An ideal Achtung! Cthulhu would focus on both in a good balance, always remembering that the players are really here because of the horror, fantasy and fictional aspects and less about the history.  I honestly believe that Kontamination accomplishes an amazing balance between the two aspects of the setting.

In conclusion, Kontamination is well written from a content point of view but from a RPG structure point of view, I think it needs a little work.  The story is amazingly well put together and fluid and it was very fun to play.  The players all had fun.  I highly recommend this as a one shot at home or at a convention.  The GM needs to do a little more preparation beyond just reading it, but if he does that, the session will go very well.

For more details on Modiphius Entertainment Ltd and their new RPG Adventure/One ShotKontamination” check them out at their website http://www.modiphius.com/.

Codex Rating: 16

Product Summary

From: Modiphius Entertainment Ltd
Type of Game: RPG Adventure/One Shot
Written by Sam Richards & Matthew Pook
Created using the Tweet RPG system (www.tweetrpg.co.uk)
Additional Material by Dave Blewer, Bill Bodden & Lynne Hardy
Edited by Lynne Hardy, Matthew Pook & Michal E. Cross
Artwork by Dim Martin
Graphic Design, Layout & Cartography by Michal E. Cross
Produced & Art Directed by Chris Birch & Lynne Hardy
Number of Pages: 54
Game Components Included: One PDF adventure
Game Components Not Included: Core RPG rulebooks
Retail Price: $11.99 (US)
Website: http://www.modiphius.com/

Reviewed by: Ron W McClung



5 Questions with Michael Lawson, MACE 2014 GM of Brain Case Trophies Events!

Tell us a little about yourself and your experience in gaming?
Hello! My name is Michael Lawson. I am 48 years old and I currently live in the Atlanta Metro Area. I am originally from the Detroit/Ann Arbor area and that’s where I started gaming in… oh, 1980 or so. AD&D, Gamma World, Boot Hill, Top Secret – all the TSR games from back in the day. Other games include Traveller and Space Opera. And Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu. I guess that makes it about 34 years of gaming. Still having fun!
What is Novus Ordo Seclorum?  How did you get involved?
Novus Ordo Seclorum is a Chicago based group of gamers who have been bringing their “A”-game to Gen Con since 1985. My first Novus round was back in Milwaukee, the last year Gen Con was in Milwaukee (2001?). The experience forever changed me and showed me what horror role-playing was all about – or what it could be. Every year after that event (held in the locker room of the ice arena where the RPGA games were held, across from the main convention hall!), I have tried my best to get into their games. And it’s hard to do considering there are more people who want to play than open slots. They run the Cthulhu Masters tournament, and in some years, a Novus Round (both elimination style tournaments, where 1 or 2 players from each session advance to the next round, until there is a final round and a winner proclaimed). Other Novus games come up occasionally that are not run tourney-style. I can tell you this, if you see one, get a ticket if you can. You will have great fun and role-play with some of the best RPG’ers out there! I got to the point where the only games I go to play at Gen Con are Novus rounds. For me, others just don’t compare… with the exception of the “You Too Can Cthulhu” games. They’re run by folks from Minneapolis/St. Paul MN who have ran the Masters a time or two as well. The year before last, I made it to the finals for the Masters. Awesome fun, but the Mi-Go Brain Case Trophy still eludes me! Last year I tried my hand at helping out to run the Novus games. I realized how much hard work it is! I think going forward, I will play Novus rounds at GenCon, and that is why I’ve started to look for events like MACE, where I can run a CoC game and to help “pay it forward”. By that I mean, take what I have learned on how and why Novus rounds are such a blast, and try to create a similar experience for other players. Above all, it has to be fun for everyone.
How would you describe the perfect game for you as a player?
Perfect game? I’ll say it again: it has to be fun for everyone at the table. Then, I suppose the best games I’ve been in is where the players are able to carry the story forward. A GM can stage the scene, but the particular script is best when it comes from each player as their character. The perfect game for me is one where the story takes on a life of its own… and becomes a shared collective experience for players as well as the GM. Each player stays in character 100% of the time (because they want to and just are in character, 1st person) and table-talk and meta-gaming is kept to a minimum. You know you’ve been in a great role playing game when everyone stays at the table, talking about their shared experience, their characters, the story… it just is apparent when the game has transcended and become more of an experience then an event at a convention. Atmosphere, props… music… anything that helps to craft that experience goes a long way in helping with the suspension of belief which is I believe is core to “my perfect game as a player”.
What makes the Lovecraftian Horror most appealing to you?
Good question. I guess it has to do with how precarious our existence is… how chaotic, random, cold and indifferent the universe is, in my opinion. Despite all our technology and hubris, we really don’t know what’s out there, do we? Or what the “true nature” of reality is. People say, “Every thing happens for a reason”. Malarkey. Most everything is the result of an innumerable number of events that came before it that set things in motion… in combination with even more random factors that simply happen for no reason. Lovecraftian horror admits to the reader the truth that our minds and our capability of understanding the true nature of the Universe – is limited. Very limited. As a protagonist in a Call of Cthulhu scenario – at the game table, or as a character in a story – characters most often start out as “regular” people… who for various reasons, get caught up in some horrible fate that gives them insight into this “horror of knowing” and/or glimpses of some awful “thing which should not be”. Characters become “tainted” by this knowledge and most often pay a price for it. Remember, Call of Cthulhu is the only game I know of where you can have a great time and still see your character go insane, die… or worse…
What other games are you involved with?
Sadly, since moving to Atlanta I don’t get to play much (hint: I’m always on the look out for a good group of RPG’ers to play with in the Atlanta area!). Other games I like to play: Pathfinder. Hated DND 4. Excited to try DND 5, I hear they fixed it. Traveller is a classic game I still enjoy. I’ll try any role-playing game. My buddy in Atlanta is teaching me to play StarFleet Battles (a board game – I probably got the name wrong). “Are you a werewolf” is fun. I just bought the card game “Gloom” at GenCon – hoping to get my family to play as they don’t enjoy role-playing like I do. I can say I’ve had some of the best time gaming ever in LARPS at cons. I’ve also had the worst time ever playing in LARPS at cons… so I know they can be very fun… you just have to know which ones to sign up for. Oh! One of the best RPG games I have ever played campaign style (non-con, regular weekend schedule with friends) was a Star Wars game, which is no longer in print. I have come to learn there have been several versions of Star Wars RPG… wish I could remember the exact name/version of that one! The game system was awesome and I was so surprised at how well the game mechanics for being a Jedi worked. It was fun! I want to play again. I have to say one of the biggest reasons I love classic Call of Cthulhu is the game system. Its so light-weight, it doesn’t get in the way… and puts the emphasis on role-playing, and of course, having fun.

Achtung! Cthulhu: Keeper’s Guide to the Secret War

Achtung! Cthulhu: Keeper’s Guide to the Secret War
From: Modiphius Games
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Achtung! Cthulhu: Keeper’s Guide to the Secret War is a new RPG Core Book from Modiphius Games.

Having reviewed the Investigator’s Guide, it is only natural to take on the next book in the series – the Keeper’s Guide.  For me, as a keeper or game master, this is where the meat of the story begins.  This is where the setting really comes out for me.  Included in this book, among other things, are Allied and Nazi forces & intelligence agencies, Occult organizations and Mythos-based missions, new tomes, secret weapons, artifacts & equipment, key characters & vile creatures, and new rules and strategies for World War II combat & survival.  Like the Investigator’s Guide review, I thought it best to go chapter by chapter and comment on each.

From page # ii:
“There’s a whole Shoggoth’s worth of Cthulhu villainy, enough for any Keeper to have his investigators dead, insane or running for their lives in no time!”

Chapter 1: From The Shadows seems like a very familiar chapter.  The Investigator’s Guide started out in the same fashion, with a timeline of key events in World War II.  However, in the Keeper’s Guide, this timeline contains key events in the Secret War, as well.  Some events actually happened and are re-tooled to link back to the Secret War.  I would not recommend just skimming this chapter.  There is an amazing amount of detail and inspiration in this.  This is where you can get your story arches and adventure seeds.

Chapter 2, entitled Inside The Reich, takes you into Nazi Germany – the people who suffered through it and key events in the Third Reich history.  Of course, chances are players in A!C will want to play Allied characters, but there is the off chance the players might want to play German characters instead.  It can be a difficult thing to wrestle with as a Keeper, but this chapter helps in a lot of ways to put Nazi Germany in perspective.  While it tries to give you a balanced view of the average German citizen and/or soldier, it makes no bones about the horrible atrocities the Nazis performed during the war.  There is a very well written portion by Kenneth Hite called Sympathy for the Devil that is a really good read.

“Man is a military animal, glories in gunpowder and loves parade.” – Philip James Bailey

Chapter 3: Might Makes Right? takes the reader into the organization within the various armed forces.  The A!C is set during of time of massive world conflict, where the ways of war rule the day in many parts of the world.  This chapter provides an amazing amount of detail (but it does not overwhelm you) about the common terms used in military structure, ranks, troop organization and military policy.  It also describes various things in the life of a soldier – supply lines and acquiring needed material and items, medical services and other essential aspects of life in the military.  Being captured is also a possibility in a time of war and can easily be a way to start out an adventure.  This chapter provides good insight into that side of the war.  The chapter ends with a series of military NPCs (in both Call of Cthulhu 6th edition and Savage Worlds rules) helpful in the World War II military world.

Chapter 4: The Other Secret War looks at the history of the British, American, French, and German intelligence services.  Every war has its facets and layers.  The top layer of any war is the men and machines in places in the fields and the bravery shown as each side battles for territory.  Under that layer are the men and women that battle in the shadows searching for information on the enemy while seeding misinformation to the enemy, all in an effort to help the top layer do their jobs better.  It’s not always successful but it is an important role in the war.

This chapter deals in the complexities of World War II espionage.  All the major allies in the European theater are covered in fine detail.  The reason for this detail is because players will more than likely be working for or dealing with these organizations in their A!C adventures.  Adventures could easily start out as simple intelligence missions that explode into the world of Lovecraftian occult.

Chapter 5: Secret And Occult Societies, as the title implies, covers a wide variety of cults, cabals, and covens.  Traditionally, they play a pivotal role in many Mythos stories.  Throw the various motivations and twists of war time, and these secret societies explode with adventure possibilities.  In these pages are several secret societies and why they exist.  Motivations behind these groups vary, including protecting ancient artifacts, protecting the nation as a whole by use of their supernatural abilities, furthering a Mythos entity’s goals, and generally causing havoc because they hate a certain group or another.

If a good handful of twisted and dark cults, societies and factions isn’t enough, the book presents Section M, a special British-based multinational organization started by the British Section D.  It was formed after realizing there was more out there than just your standard challenges of wartime espionage.  Section M was formed to handle issues of a more supernatural nature.  The book describes the origins of this very important group and also gives a handful of important NPCs.  Also included is Majestic, the American answer to Section M.  The book includes similar information for Majestic as well.

The Cult of the Black Sun is the feared cult behind the scenes in Nazi, Germany.  A sort of Lovecraftian version of Hydra (Marvel Comics), its origin is deeply connected to the Dreamlands and the sinister beings within.  Its tentacles reach as far back as the late 1800s when its founder explored the Dreamlands and found the Valley of the Black Sun.  From there was born the foundation of what is to become one of the most powerful and feared secret societies within Germany.  Secretly linked to Hitler’s Thule Society, the Black Sun uses the society as a front to accomplish its sinister goals during the rise of the Nazi party.  Once Hilter begins his journey to power, the Thule Society is forced to disband but the Black Sun remained in the shadows. As the Nazis seize power, the Black Sun integrates itself with other facets of the party, including the Ahnenerbe – Himmler’s Ayran think tank.  The Cult of the Black Sun takes up a considerable amount of this chapter with amazing detail, interweaving it with key events and groups of real history.  The Cult of the Black Sun is set up as the big bad guy in the setting, one that the players will more than likely face through a multitude of fronts, related cults and other secret factions.  The section ends with a series of NPCs that make up the Black Sun, including individuals as well as generic soldiers of the Black Suns, like the Canon, the Norn, and die Troten – lower level leaders and drones of the Black Sun.  There is some incredible art here as well.

I could go on because there is so much more in this chapter, but suffice to say this is one of my favorite chapters.  There is plenty of meat for a Keeper to chew on and come up with great horror and supernatural hunting plots.

Chapter 6: Planes, Trains, And Things That Go Bang is the chapter of travel and stuff.  The first half of the chapter covers travel and the various means to accomplish said travel.  It contains a comprehensive list of air and sea ports and describes the various ways people traveled across country.  Several of the more common land and air vehicles are stat’ed out in both Call of Cthullhu and Savage Worlds.  Following this is the common equipment for characters from each country – weapons primarily – as well as some improvised or custom weapons and equipment.

Chapter 7: Into The Fray takes the reader into the war from a Call of Cthulhu rule system perspective.  Previously published rules on various important aspect of war and combat are re-printed here.  Rules for aerial combat as well as tank combat rules are presented here “ … with the emphasis on roleplaying rather than number crunching.” (p159).

Chapter 8: The Rules Of Savage Engagement is similar to Chapter 7 with a little extra rules where needed, like Aerial Bombardment rules and other special battlefield rules.  Also contained within these pages is a very special part of the Lovecraftian world – Sanity.  This is the area that surprised me the most.

From page # ii:
“The Keeper’s Guide to the Secret War is the essential Achtung! Cthulhu wartime reference for any Keeper or fan of the Cthulhu Mythos.”

The first Achtung! Cthulhu product to be released was the award winning adventure Zero Point: Three Kings.  From the Savage Worlds point of view, the Three Kings adventure was written using Realms of Cthulhu rules set.  I thought when the Guides came out, they would stick with that rules set.  I didn’t really think was anything wrong with them.  To my surprise, they changed to a slightly different approach, at least where Sanity is concerned.  Both use the same derived Sanity stat but that is where the similarities stop.  There are three levels of Fear in Achtung! Cthulhu that creatures, tomes and spells have – Nausea, Horror and Terror.  Each has the potential of one or more levels of Dementia.  As they are gained, temporary insanities can become a problem for the character.  Gaining too much Dementia can result in permanent insanities and eventually total insanity. Horror and Terror have their own table and are referenced only when a one is rolled on the Trait die.  Dementia comes from these tables.

I am not a big fan of tables but they make it somewhat acceptable because you reference it only when a 1 pops up on the Trait die (no matter what comes up on the Wild Die).  If they make a Keeper screen, these tables would obviously have to be included.

Chapter 9: Artefacts And Tomes contains a wide variety of items for the Keeper to throw into his adventure to help or hinder the characters.  These include, of course, mystical items like Mi-go Bio Cloak or the Pyramids of Leng.  They also include items thought to be mundane but in truth have mystical powers.  The Die Blutfahne is one particular Nazi flag that, through some very dark and mystical events, has some very mystical powers to those loyal to the cause.  In total, there are 9 artifacts list here.

The tomes list several tomes that can be found in the Call of Cthulhu core rulebook and thus only have Savage Worlds stats.  There are also some original tomes that have both rules.  There are an additional 9 tomes here.

Chapter 10: Deadly Illusions And Cursed Knowledge expands on the aspects of magic using, learning spells and its effects on the human psyche.  The rules listed are primarily for Savage Worlds as most of the spells and rules surrounding spells can be found in Call of Cthulhu 6th Edition.  As Savage Worlds does not have Magic Points, so to speak, this system uses Sanity as the “cost” to cast.  Some cost a Sanity point directly while others require a Spirit roll.  There are a good many spells, some from the Call of Cthulhu line and some new.  Of course, the new spells have both Call of Cthulhu and Savage Worlds stats.

Chapter 11: Horrors And Monstrosities is where I thought they would have saved themselves a lot of paper by simply maintaining compatibility with Realms of Cthulhu, but because of the path they chose to take primarily in the Sanity rules, they had to republish many of the standard Cthulhu Mythoscreatures in Savage Worlds rules.  I am sure there is a reason for it.  The question is are they all that much different from the Realms of Cthulhu?  Browsing through both books, I do notice a significant difference between the interpretations of common creatures while at the same time, there are some that are in one book and not the other.  So neither are better or worse than the other.  I just think they are both configured for their own particular setting.

What most readers would find interesting are the new creatures they have added to the Mythos, especially created for the Achtung! Cthulhu setting.  Servitor races like the Bloodborn or the Cold Ones gives you new options to creep your players out.  Twisted created like die draugar or die gefallenen are also very cool new creatures added for the setting.

While the previous chapter covers the dark and twisted, Chapter 12: Allies And Nemeses covers the real life heroes of the time and the mundane everyday NPCs.  A short description of all the major figures of World War II is given and a variety of generic NPC stats are also displayed.

Chapter 13: Adventure Seeds is 4 pages of great adventure ideas for the Secret Wars, with ideas inspired from real events and gives a slight twist to them to fit the setting.  This is a must-read for Keepers.

Chapter 14: Quick Play Guide is a quick reference guide to Achtung! Cthulhu, for both Call of Cthlhu and  Savage Worlds players.  And the book ends with a great chapter of Suggested Resources.

In conclusion, The book is a phenomenal piece of work.  It is attractive, easy to browse, well written, intelligent and well thought out.  It has everything a Keeper needs to inspire and run his Achtung! Cthulhu game.  The hard back version is a gorgeous book that I am proud to have on my shelf.  To run A!C, I highly recommend this book.

For more details on Modiphius Games and their new RPG Player’s GuideAchtung! Cthulhu: Keeper’s Guide to the Secret War” check them out at their website http://www.modiphius.com/.

Codex Rating: 19

Product Summary

Achtung! Cthulhu: Keeper’s Guide to the Secret War
From: Modiphius Games
Type: RPG Keeper’s Guide
Written by: Chris Birch, Dave Blewer, Bill Bodden, Alex Bund, Russ Charles, Adam Crossingham, Lynne Hardy, Kenneth Hite, Sarah Newton & Matthew Pook
Edited by: Lynne Hardy & Michal E. Cross
Artwork by: Dim Martin
Graphic Design, Layout & Cartography by: Michal E. Cross
Produced & Art Directed by: Chris Birch & Lynne Hardy
Proofreading by: Richard Hardy, Matthew Pook & Kickstarter Backers
Number of Pages: 295
Game Components Included: One PDF or hardback book
Game Components Not Included: Core RPG book (Call of Cthulhu or Savage Worlds)
Retail Price: $44.99 hard back; $22.99 (US)
Website: http://www.modiphius.com/

Reviewed by: Ron McClung


Achtung! Cthulhu: Investigator’s Guide to the Secret War

Achtung! Cthulhu: Investigator’s Guide to the Secret War
From: Modiphius Games
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Achtung! Cthulhu: Investigator’s Guide is a new RPG Player’s Guide from Modiphius Games.

Two of my passions are H.P. Lovecraft Cthulhu Mythos and World War II history.  When these two are combined, I will dive into it head first every opportunity I have.

I started my journey into Achtung! Cthulhu with running their first adventure, Three Kings. At the time, the Three Kings adventure, from the Savage Worlds side of things, was written for the Realms of Cthulhu.  It also could be run in classic 6th Edition Call of Cthulhu, but because of the more tactical nature of World War II, I felt that Savage World fit it better.  Imagine my surprise, however, when I found the Investigator’s Guide and the Keeper’s Guide both using a different system in Savage worlds – one of their making. I suppose that makes sense to some degree.  They would be beholding to two different licenses, I would think.  I am not 100% sure how those licenses work.

The first thing you notice about the book is that it’s absolutely stunning.  Layout, art, and everything is top notch.  It makes you want to dive into the book right away. The book is 154 pages hardback or PDF, with ten chapters.  It had a very successful Kickstarter, one that many took part in and are kindly thanked by Lynn Hardy in the Forward.

From the website:
Achtung! Cthulhu is a terrifying World War Two setting, fully compatible with the Call of Cthulhu, Sixth Edition and Savage Worlds roleplaying games. This is the Investigator’s Guide, with everything players need to create and run character’s in the late 30’s and 40’s.”

Chapter 1: Welcome to the Secret War is made up primarily of a timeline of real world events during World War 2, primarily focusing on the Western Front.  It is noted in the book that there will be future supplements covering other theaters.  This timeline is by no means complete, of course, but it does cover some interesting aspects of the war.  What I like a lot in this section especially are anecdotal pieces of trivia that are interspersed throughout the timeline’s events.

Chapter 2: Keep the Home Fires Burning handles information on how things were on the British and American home front.  From jobs, the work force, consumer goods, and rationing to fashion, music and movies, this chapter has enough information to get a good feel for things at home.  Chapter 3: Home, Sweet Home is a timeline of events that effected the various home fronts – Britain, France, and the Unites States of America.  Even though there was a war going on, there were still significant things that occurred at home that are worth noting.  From political actions to inventions, things still happened in other parts of the world.

Chapter 4: In the Service of One’s Country details the various ways people serve their country – military services, intelligence service and others.  Achtung! Cthulhu gets your character not only deeply involved with Lovecraftian investigations but also the war, so he or she is more than likely going to be involved in one of these services one way or another.  The military services of Britain, France, the US and Germany are covered here, as well as the various intelligence and national law enforcement agencies.

Chapter 5: Your Country Needs You! takes all the previous information and connects it up with the character generation system of both Call of Cthulhu 6th Edition and Savage Worlds.  What is interesting on the CoC6 side, the character generation system is a little more detailed and structured than your standard CoC6 character generation. In this chapter, the writers dive into a detailed and extensive character generation process for Call of Cthulhu. Perhaps more key to a World War II setting than in normal 1920s Call of Cthulhu, this book spends a considerable time on nationality.  Characters are more than likely going to play a British or American character but this guide provides a means to add more detail.  Characters also choose an occupation like in classic CoC, and Achtung! Cthulhu provides a table listing the more appropriate occupations for the setting.  Additionally, it provides options for Covert Occupations – things a character may be doing secretly in a time of war.  Occupations are slightly different in Achtung! Cthulhu.  Bonuses are added to them as additional differentiators and are a nice touch.  Of course, there are also military occupations available, which are much more detailed then just “Soldier” from the classic rules.  They go into considerable detail on how to build a military character with the various branches, ranks and skills.

What I like a lot is their addition of Mythos Background Seeds, which collectively are a means to hook the character into the Secret War – the Mythos war being fought behind the scenes of World War II.  They provide a nice set of tables of options that you can either roll on or choose from or simply use as inspiration for your own ideas.  This is presented as an option, but I highly recommend using it as part of your character creation process.

From the website:
“Discover the secret history of World War Two: stories of amazing heroism, in which stalwart men and women struggle to overthrow a nightmare alliance of steel and the occult; of frightening inhuman conspiracies from the depths of time; of the unbelievable war machines which are the product of Nazi engineering genius – and how close we all are to a slithering end! The Secret War has begun!”

Chapter 6: Getting Your Hands Dirty extends further into the Call of Cthulhu 6th Edition. This chapter expands on many of the relevant skills to fit in the World War II setting.  It also adds a few new skills for the setting.

In Chapter 7: The Savage Practice of War, as the title implies, are the Savage Worlds rules for Achtung! Cthulhu.  Although I have had a lot of experience with Call of Cthulhu, I have spent the past year running Achtung! Cthulhu in Savage Worlds.  In many cases, it references the previous chapters’ tables and other generic, non-game system specific information – a smart use of space and information.  Like in CoC, Achtung! Cthulhu adds a few extra things to the Savage Worlds character generation that a new player should pay close attention to.  Along with the obligatory Sanity stat (which is pretty much the same as Realms of Cthulhu), it adds a little more structure to a character’s skill selection especially if they go into the service.  Like in the CoC section, it provides structured guidelines for many career choices available in the setting.  Additionally, it provides a good number of new Hindrances and Edges for characters to choose from.

Key to the character in any Lovecraftian role playing setting is Sanity and I always thought that Realms of Cthulhu handled it well in the Savage Worlds rules set.  You don’t get a clue of it here in the Investigator’s Guide, but Achtung! Cthulhu takes a slightly different approach to it.  See our review of the Keeper’s Guide for that.

Chapter 8: The Tools of the Trade is what one would expect from a equipment chapter.  Starting with standard equipment, primarily military, items are fully stat’ed out for both CoC and Savage Worlds. Also included are a number of covert items to be used in the Secret War by the players.

Chapter 9: Quick Play Guide is a section that gives you a quick reference to everything presented in the book, from character generation to important combat rules.   Page numbers and/or chapter numbers are given for this book as well as Call of Cthulhu 6th Edition, and Savage Worlds Deluxe or Deluxe Explorer’s Edition.

Chapter 10: Suggested Resources is easily overlooked by the reader, but I highly recommend going through it.  There is a good variety of helpful resources to help a player and a keeper to capture the essence of a World War II Lovecraftian adventure.

In conclusion, Achtung! Cthulhu: Investigator’s Guide is a brilliant book, gorgeously laid out and full of useful player information to play in this setting.  I love the setting and I love this book.  I plan on running this regularly at the convention I attend.  What I like most about it is that it is intelligently put together and written, and that you can see that the writers and creators have a true passion for the setting.  It’s an enjoyable read and very inspiring for players and game masters a like.

For more details on Modiphius Games and their new RPG Player’s GuideAchtung! Cthulhu: Investigator’s Guide” check them out at their website http://www.modiphius.com/.

Codex Rating: 19

Product Summary

Achtung! Cthulhu: Investigator’s Guide to the Secret War
From: Modiphius Games
Type of Game: RPG Player’s Guide
Written by: Chris Birch, Dave Blewer, Alex Bund, Adam Crossingham, Lynne Hardy, Sarah Newton & Matthew Pook
Edited by: Lynne Hardy & Michal E. Cross
Cover Artwork by: Pintureiro
Interior Artwork by: Dim Martin
Graphic Design, Layout & Cartography by: Michal E. Cross
Produced & Art Directed by: Chris Birch & Lynne Hardy
Proofreading by: Richard Hardy, Matthew Pook
Number of Pages: 154
Game Components Included: One PDF or hardback book
Game Components Not Included: Core RPG book (Call of Cthulhu or Savage Worlds)
Retail Price: $32.00 hard back; $14.99 (US)
Website: http://www.modiphius.com/

Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Eldritch Horror

Eldritch Horror
From: Fantasy Flight Games
Reviewed by: Tony McRee

Eldritch Horror is a cooperative board game from Fantasy Flight Games. This game is another addition to their line of games that explore the H.P. Lovecraft lore. Getting inspiration from the Arkham Horror game, Corey Konieczka and Nikki Valens take the adventures out of the city of Arkham and send them globetrotting in search of a mystery that will bring them face to face with the Ancient Ones.

 “The end of the world draws near!”

Eldritch Horror is very familiar in gameplay to Arkham Horror, and the mission you need to accomplish is to either keep the Elder One from awakening or destroy it if it does. At the start players pick investigators, some of which are familiar faces from the other games in the series. Investigators have three steps to perform: all players take two actions, players then have encounters, and the lead investigator turns over a Mythos card from the constructed deck based on the elder one. The actions the players take include travelling, getting tickets to help move a little farther, resting, trading items, getting assets, or doing component actions. All these actions help prepare the player to face the upcoming encounters. These actions and encounters then assist the investigators in solving the three mysteries that will keep the Elder One from awakening. Sounds simple, but the Mythos card that gets turned over after the encounters only throws roadblocks up for the investigators by either spawning monsters, advancing the doom track, spawning gates or a host of other bad effects.

“The door exploded into the room with a thunderous crack, and the thing stepped past the threshold”

While the concepts of Eldritch Horror are simple, the gameplay is very challenging. It is one of my favorite cooperative games and we find ourselves at times on the verge of success only to be ripped to shreds as the Elder One steps through the threshold. Two things stand out for me about this game over Arkham Horror. First, the gaining of assets is different in this game during the player’s turn and is a nice addition to the game. Players roll dice equal to their player’s Influence stat and based on the success rolls, the purchasing value is determined. Players then gain Assets from the reserve equal to or less than the purchasing value. If a player doesn’t have enough value, he can then take Debt which adds some interesting impacts if you are not careful. The second addition is the ability to collect loot from players that have expired during the game…and players will expire, that is a given. Instead of losing their assets, players can claim them if they go and investigate the body. This is a great addition because some loot is epic and really helps along the way.

In conclusion, Eldritch Horror has the same feel as Arkham Horror but can stand on its own. If you already have Arkham Horror, should you get it?  It depends on if you need another “beat an Elder One” cooperative game in your collection. If you don’t, then Eldritch Horror is a great addition to a collection. I enjoy Eldritch Horror more than the other games in the series. I liked not having to fiddle with the stats of a character like you do in Arkham Horror and of course the challenge of the game exceeds Elder Sign. While the base game only comes with four initial scenarios, Fantasy Flight has already announced an expansion to keep the game fresh and thus showing their support.

For more details on this game, head over to the Fantasy Flight Games http://www.fantasyflightgames.com/edge_minisite.asp?eidm=244&enmi=Eldritch%20Horror or your local game store.

Codex Rating: 18

Product Summary

Eldritch Horror
Type of Game: Cooperation
Game Design by: Corey Konieczka and Nikki Valens
Game Components Included:  

  • 1 Game Board
  • 1 Reference Guide
  • 12 Investigator Sheets w/ Matching Tokens & Stands
  • 4 Ancient One Sheets
  • 51 Mythos Cards (21 yellow, 18 green and 12 blue)
  • 16 Mystery Cards (4 backs, 4 each)
  • 14 Artifact Cards
  • 40 Asset Cards
  • 36 Condition Cards
  • 20 Spell Cards
  • 4 Reference Cards
  • 122 Encounter Cards
  • 8 America Cards
  • 8 Europe Cards
  • 8 Asia/Australia Cards
  • 12 General Cards
  • 24 Other World Cards
  • 18 Expedition (6 backs, 3 each)
  • 12 Special Cards (2 backs, 6 each)
  • 32 Research Cards (4 backs, 8 each)
  • 245 Tokens
  • 43 Monster Tokens (34 normal, 9 epic)
  • 1 Lead Investigator token
  • 1 Active Expedition Token
  • 20 Travel Ticket Tokens (8 train, 12 ship)
  • 30 Improvement Tokens (6 for each skill)
  • 9 Gate Tokens
  • 20 Eldritch Tokens
  • 36 Clue Tokens
  • 1 Mystery Token
  • 4 Rumor Tokens
  • 78 Health and Sanity Tokens
  • 30 (1 Health)
  • 12 (3 Health)
  • 24 (1 Sanity)
  • 12 (3 Sanity)
  • 4 Dice

Retail Price: $ 59.99 (US)
Number of Players: up to 8
Player Ages: 14 and up
Play Time: 45 minutes per player
Website: http://www.fantasyflightgames.com/edge_minisite.asp?eidm=244

Reviewed by: Tony McRee

Building an Elder God

Building an Elder God

From: Signal Fire Studios

Reviewed by: Barry Lewis

If you’re familiar with monster card/tile building games such as “Cartoona” and “Monster Factory”  then “Building an Elder God,” by Signal Fire Studios, will be easy to pick up and play.  As for those of you who are not, don’t fret, it’s a very easy, fun game to learn and play.

The basic premise of the game is to build or “summon” your god first, all the while slowing your opponents down by damaging their god along the way.  First one to “summon” their god or who is the first one eaten or driven insane, wins.  I guess it depends on your definition of what “win” is when dealing with madness inducing conglomerations.

You start the game with a body card and a mouth card, 2 necronomicon cards and a starting hand of 5 cards.  You’ll always have 5 cards in your hand, no more and no less.  So make sure to draw or discard to get back to 5 cards. Place the body in front of you and put the mouth and necronomicon cards aside for now.  The players then take turns placing cards next to the body to create their creature.  Players can also place “damaged” or “shotgunned” cards on other player’s creatures to slow down their progress.  If you have a damaged body part, you can either use one of your necronomicon cards to heal it and make it immune to any other damage for the rest of the game or you can place a “healthy” card of the same type over it.  Also, some body parts have a purple-ish hue around them indicating they are immune to damage.

To win the game, you must have at least the minimum number of body cards stated in the rules to win the game.  Once you have the required number of body parts you can then play the “mouth” card and win the game.  We were playing a 5 player game so the creature had to be at least 8 cards minimum not including the body and mouth.  There is a “variant” game in which you use elder sign cards as well, but since we were just learning the game we decided not to use them.

There were a few minor rules questions, but it didn’t take away from the fun.  The most common issue were the cards themselves.  They were very “sticky” or tactile and made it a little difficult to deal and draw from the pile.  The group I played it with really enjoyed it and called it a great “filler”game.  I also enjoyed it, but lost as usual because I was paying too much attention to my creature and not paying enough attention to the rest of the group.  The game is definitely needed in your library for “pick-up” gaming.

打印Codex rating: 13

Building an Elder God

Produced by: Signal Fire Studios

Developed by: Jamie Chambers

Design and Art by: Ben Mund

# of Players: 2-5

Suggested Age: 6 and up

Playing time: 15 to 30 minutes

Retail Price: $19.99 (US)

Website: Signalfirestudios.com


Interview with Thomas Eliot of Sixpence Games

Thomas Eliot is CEO of Sixpence Games. Their latest game is Cultists of Cthulhu: Miskatonic University.

To start off, tell us about yourself and your history in gaming.

I’ve been gaming since before I can remember. I started out with only the classic American games like Clue, Scrabble, and Risk, but very early discovered better ones, like Catan, Puerto Rico, D&D, and all of the Cheapass Games. I’ve been gaming non-stop ever since. Strangely enough, I play no videogames.

Describe Cultists of Cthulhu for us in the form of an elevator pitch.

Cultists of Cthulhu is a game of mystery and intrigue, investigation, cooperation, and betrayal. Players are students and professors at Miskatonic University, investigating strange phenomena. It’s cooperative, except that one of the players is secretly a Cultist trying to kill the rest.

Which Cthulhu Mythos stories were a particular influence in creating Cultists of Cthulhu?

At the Mountains of Madness, The Fungi from Yuggoth, Call of Cthulhu (of course), and The King in Yellow and Other Stories, to name just a few. Lesser inspirations came from The Dunwich Horror and The Shadow Over Innsmouth.

What aspects of Cultists of Cthulhu do you believe cause it to stand out from other Lovecraft-themed games on the tabletop game market?

A lot of Mythos games go for a comedy angle – that’s not what I’m doing at all. Cultists focuses on secrets and betrayal, creating a genuine feeling of paranoia and distrust. The mechanics are just really good and fun and evocative of the theme. The art and music enhance the mood. Cultists is semi-cooperative, that is, cooperative but with a traitor, and I don’t know of any other Lovecraft themed games that do that.

If Cultists of Cthulhu proves to be successful, are there any expansions you would like to publish?

Yes! In particular I want to do a stand alone game using many of the same rules and set in the same universe, but with a few significant twists, called Cultists of Cthulhu at the Mountains of Madness. It would start with a drafting minigame about the voyage to Antarctica, and then would be about exploring that frozen wasteland and forgotten cities of the Elder Things using mechanics from Miskatonic University. The games would be compatible (you could take a character or item from one and use it in the other) and also standalone, and in addition to the scenarios it would come with, I want to make a mega scenario that starts with a game of Miskatonic University and then afterwards transitions into a game of Mountains of Madness, telling a single, enormous story.

Mansions of Madness

Mansions of Madness

From: Fantasy Flight Games

Reviewed by: Sitting Duck

As a horror writer, H.P. Lovecraft was no stranger to the ‘Creepy Old House’ premise. Admittedly, the stories he wrote which featured them usually weren’t among his better works (you’d be hard pressed to find a Lovecraft fanboy willing to couch The Lurking Fear in terms more favorable than a guilty pleasure). Still, many Call of Cthulhu adventures have prominently featured such structures. Mansions of Madness intends to convert such scenarios into board game form.

From the back of the box:
Horrific monsters and spectral presences lurk in manors, crypts, schools, monasteries, and derelict buildings near Arkham, Massachusetts. Some spin dark conspiracies while others wait for hapless victims to devour or drive insane. It’s up to a handful of brave investigators to explore these cursed places and uncover the truth about the living nightmares within.”

As implied in my introduction, Mansions of Madness takes an RPG-like approach. One player takes on the role as keeper, directing the monsters and hindering the investigators controlled by the other players. The base game includes five scenarios from which to choose. Each in turn has three possible objectives which determine victory and defeat conditions, effectively providing fifteen different scenarios. Add in the various ways the keeper can set up the clue trail and there’s quite a bit of replay value provided.

The eight investigators included with the game have similar modularity to them. The base character card lists the starting Stamina and Sanity of the investigator as well as starting skill points. Opportunities to replenish these stats when they’re expended are few and far between, so players should avoid such situations when possible. Each character has two sets of two trait cards to choose from, one for physical attributes and one for mental attributes. The trait cards selected also determine the investigator’s starting item as well as a one-use ability.

Gameplay consists of each investigator taking a turn followed by the keeper’s turn. An investigator’s turn consists of two Movement steps and one Action step, which may be taken in any order. A Movement step allows a player to move the investigator one space. An action step can be used to run (in effect treating it as a Movement step), drop items, use a card with an Action ability, attack a monster, or explore a room. Some actions require an attribute test. This consists of applying any described modifiers to the named attribute and rolling the ten-sided die. Before the roll, a skill point may be spent to apply the investigator’s Luck as a positive modifier. A result that is equal to or less than the modified attribute counts as success, while a result greater than the modified attribute counts as a failure. A one is always a success and a ten is always a failure, so neither result is guaranteed regardless of modifiers. Once all investigators have completed their turns, any sharing the same space may trade items.

The keeper turn starts with drawing threat tokens equal to the number of investigators. These then get spent on keeper actions. The available actions will largely depend on which scenario is being run. If there are any tokens left, they can carry over to the next turn. Should any monsters on the board share a space with an investigator, they can perform an attack. The keeper turn is ended by placing a time token on top of the Event deck.

Even when it’s not the keeper’s turn, he can still cause the investigators grief with mythos and trauma cards. Mythos cards are highly restricted in when they can be used, usually requiring the expenditure of threat tokens and/or that the target investigator be in a certain room. The reason for these strictures is that the effects of most mythos cards are really nasty. Luckily for the investigators, a mythos card gets discarded after being used. Trauma cards come in physical and mental varieties and can be played on an investigator when Stamina or Sanity damage are taken as appropriate. These usually stick an investigator with an attribute penalty that can be either temporary or last through the game.

The Event deck regulates the pace of the game. When there are a number of time tokens equal to the number printed on the back of the top card of the Event deck, the tokens are removed and the card is drawn and resolved. While the effects of an event card can vary, they’re rarely to the benefit of the investigators. When the final event card is drawn, the game is over and usually (but not always) results in the defeat of the investigator players.

Exploring rooms is necessary for advancing the scenario. Each room starts the game with at least one exploration card. Many will provide a useful item, while others will be blanks. The most pivotal cards are those which provide clues as to where to investigate next, with the final clue revealing the scenario objective. Often, all it takes is to spend an Action step to draw the card(s) in the same room as the investigator. But it’s not always that simple. The most critical exploration cards (including the clues) are hidden under obstacle and lock cards. Obstacles require that the investigator pass the requirements described on the card, which usually involves possessing a specific exploration card, passing an attribute test, or solving a puzzle. Once passed, the rest of the exploration cards may be collected. Locks are similar, but the room in question cannot be entered until its requirements are met. This means a Movement step must be held in reserve when resolving a lock card.

As is appropriate for a Cthulhu Mythos adventure, combat is not a tactic of the first resort (at least not if you want to win). However, there are circumstances where violence may be necessary. Cards are drawn from one of three decks (depending on the monster’s sub-type) until you get one that matches the investigator’s attack type (unarmed, melee, or ranged). Along with a bit of flavor text, the card will indicate the attribute test needed for the attack as well as the result of both success and failure on the top half of the card. While certain attributes are used more frequently (for instance, ranged attacks tend to use Marksmanship), just about any of them can be employed depending on the flavor text. Monster attacks are handled in a similar way, except they use the text on the bottom half of the card.

From the rulebook:
Investigators should also be careful to stay fairly close to one another. It is quite easy for the keeper to pick out and overwhelm lone investigators. If you’ve ever seen a horror movie, you know what happens when the characters say, ‘Let’s split up!‘”

An aspect I particularly enjoy are the puzzles. Many of the lock and obstacle cards require that a tile puzzle be solved to resolve them. The tiles are rotated and/or shifted until they form the appropriate pattern based on its sub-type. Now puzzle solving in RPGs tends to suffer from a disconnect between character abilities and player abilities. In a worst case scenario, a lazy smart-aleck will proclaim that his character solves the puzzle thanks to his high Intelligence stat. The GM then counters by telling him to roleplay it. Meanwhile, the puzzle fiend player roleplays his dull-witted brick character by not helping with the puzzle. Harsh words are exchanged, dice are shoved up inappropriate places, and Game Night ends in tears. Mansions of Madness features a compromise where a player gets a number of actions per turn equal to the character’s Intellect. So while it’s ultimately up to the player to solve the puzzle, the character stats matter. The only issue comes from the fact that the tiles are randomly dealt and can potentially result in a puzzle impossible to solve as is. Though tiles can be discarded and replaced, such a move costs two actions. This is presumably to discourage excessive tile discarding by lazy puzzle solvers, but can also be a rather harsh penalty for what might just be an unlucky draw.

Though the game can theoretically be run with only two players, this is less than ideal. Under such circumstances, the keeper is unable to accumulate much in the way of threat tokens. This results in most of the really good keeper actions and mythos cards becoming effectively unusable. On the investigator side, having only one investigator leaves little time for a thorough exploration of the house, forcing him to concentrate solely on following the trail of clues. While many games can become cumbersome when the maximum number of players participate, Mansions of Madness works a lot better by doing that.

In conclusion, despite some awkward aspects, the game does a reasonably competent job of translating RPG scenarios into a board game. The way the mechanics all but guarantee that a charging in guns blazing approach will end in disaster help encourage a proper frame of mind for a Cthulhu Mythos-style investigation.

Rating: 15

Product Summary

Mansions of Madness

From: Fantasy Flight Games

Type of Game: Board Game

Game Design by: Corey Konieczka and Tim Uren

Cover Art by: Anders Finer

Additional Art by: Henning Ludvigsen

Game Components Included: Rulebook, Keeper Guide, 8 Investigator figures, 24 Monster figures, 1 ten-sided die, 83 Exploration cards, 20 Spell cards, 14 Starting Item cards, 32 Trait cards, 12 Lock cards, 7 Obstacle cards, 35 Mythos cards, 21 Trauma cards, 65 Combat cards, 8 Investigator Character cards, 25 Event cards, 13 Keeper Action cards, 15 Objective cards, 15 Map tiles, 72 Damage tokens, 24 Horror tokens, 18 Room Feature markers, 4 Sample tokens, 12 Sealed Door markers, 24 Skill Point tokens, 24 Status Effect tokens, 13 Story Choice markers, 12 Threat tokens, 6 Time tokens, 3 Lock Puzzle Setup tiles, 15 Lock Puzzle pieces, 23 Rune Puzzle pieces, 3 Wiring Puzzle Setup tiles, 15 Wiring Puzzle pieces

Retail Price: $79.99

Number of Players: 2-5

Player Ages: 13+

Play Time: 2-3 hours

Website: http://www.fantasyflightgames.com

Reviewed by: Sitting Duck

Achtung Cthulhu: Three Kings – A second look

Achtung Cthulhu: Three Kings (Zero Point Part 1)

A second look

After reading through the Three Kings adventure the first and second time, I set out with a plan to try and run this single adventure as a convention game.  It is funny how one can read through an adventure more than once and completely under estimate the potential.  It really goes to show you that you don’t truly know an adventure until you run it.  This is especially true in the case of the Three Kings adventure, as I found out.

My goal was a ambitious one but I thought if I trimmed some of the adventure down I could fit it into a four-hour time slot.  I first set out to run it in Call of Cthulhu as I am more comfortable with that rule set.  But I understand that CoC is geared towards the horror and investigative side of a Lovecraftian adventure.  Three Kings has that, of course, but because of its sheer nature in being set in World War II, it also has its tactical aspects too.  CoC is very abstract with the tactical side of things.

The other option was Savage Worlds: Realms of Cthulhu.  I have nothing against Savage Worlds. I thoroughly enjoy it when I play it.  I was just not comfortable with it at the time, from a  game master perspective.  Savage Worlds, by its nature, is a little more tactical and under the Realms of Chthulhu setting, it also had the horror and investigative side as well.  This presented my first dilemma but by far not the most challenging.

I spoke with one of my friends who is an editor in the industry and was familiar with the adventure.  I asked him what he thought about fitting this adventure into a 4-hour session, and he suggested cutting out a large part of the beginning of the adventure and get them to what I thought would be about half way through the adventure.  That sounded like good advice and in fact it helped with my first dilemma – what system to use.  The first half of the adventure is largely the covert intelligence gathering part, and the second half is far more tactical.  I decided to get over my reservations of running Savage Worlds and run it in Realms of Cthulhu.

I ran the first part of the adventure just to see how it can go.  This is where I discovered what it really meant for the adventure to be a “sandbox.”  There are very few defined encounters, in truth.  A few suggestions and a few required events to move the party along the plot line, but when the players are travelling between villages and the castle, it is completely open.  In order to really make it feel like a tense region under Nazi rule, I felt obligated to at least have a few random encounters that gave the party an opportunity to feel that tension.  At the same time, however, I wanted to make sure each encounter had meaning and applied to the overall story-arch.  The first session I ran of this took just over 3 hours and we did not quite get to where I wanted to get to.

After running the second half twice, both times attempting to trim it down to a 4-hour session without losing any of the essence of the adventure, I have to say that there is so much more to this adventure than initially meets the eye.  Do not let the fact that the meat of the adventure is just 19 pages fool you.  Additionally, if you do a little research and web searching, you can learn enough about the locale to add a little more to the adventure.  I highly recommend familiarizing yourself with the layout of the castle from the various sources that are out there.  It can be enlightening.

The “sandbox” nature of this adventure can really create havoc when you are trying to manage the run time of the adventure.  Unmanaged, this adventure can easily take three to four sessions, if the game master wishes it.  The final scene, when done in full detail, can take a full session alone.  Managing the run time means managing the encounters while still allowing the players obtain the information and to reach the necessary goals of the adventure, with little to no deviation from the plot line.  Meanwhile, at the same time, the game master must avoid railroading the players in a particular direction.  The nature of a military mission helps with that, in that it keeps the player party focused on the mission goals, but deviations can happen and will if the game is not managed well.

For a home game, none of this management is necessary.  This adventure is perfect for a home game and has a lot of potential for many nights of fun and hilarity.  However, as I said before, I wanted to shoehorn this adventure into a convention game so that people at a gaming con can get a feel for what Achtung! Cthulhu was all about.  I did not want to short change the player from experiencing the heart of the adventure while at the same time I wanted the players to have a sense of closure in a 4-hour session.

My most recent attempt at trimming it down involves summarizing the mission brief (which contains way more information than needed for a convention game), and summarizing what has happened to the players thus far and include whatever intelligence they have gathered up until that point.  Unfortunately, this still adds up to about a 6 to 7 page bulleted document that the players have to read before the game.  We’ll see how that goes.  I am running it at RavenCon in Richmond, Virgina April 25 -27, if all goes according to plan.  I created a Powerpoint presentation as well, with the same information as the material the players have to read.  So hopefully between those two things, getting the gist of the game will be fairly easy for the players.

Condensing it was my most challenging problem, and one that I admit was self-imposed.  I realize that my desire to make a convention game is the path I chose and has thus far ended in longer sessions than my players would prefer.  However, there were some other minor tweaks I would recommend to anyone that wanted to avoid the somewhat clichéd ending the adventure has in store.  Enough can be done to make it somewhat original without completely changing the essence of the adventure.  Without giving away too much, I would recommend the GM read into the Mythos creature mentioned in adventure and relate the entities at the end to that creature, enhancing their look and feel with the characteristics of that Mythos creature.  This way, these entities will not feel so clichéd.  The GM should understand that cryptic recommendation, I think.

I write this to simply illustrate the depth and potential of this adventure.  My goals to condense it into a convention game made me realize this more than my initial review revealed to me.  As I said, you do not truly know an adventure until you have played it at least once.  The fact that I have had trouble compacting it is not a criticism of the overall adventure as all, but a compliment.  This setting is probably one I am going to delve into deeper now that I have played it a few times.  It touches on two of my favorite subjects – Lovecraftian horror and World War 2 – and I look forward to further adventures in it.

Interview with Bob Kelly and Aerjen Tamminga of Heresy Research Labs

Bob Kelly is CEO of Heresy Research Labs. Along with Aerjen Tamminga, their first game will be Los Cthuluchadores: Elder Things in the Wrestling Ring.

To start off, tell us about yourselves and your history in gaming.

Bob: In high school, I used to work at War Games West in Albuquerque and tried my hands at everything I could find. I always enjoyed the freakier games that daunted others. To date, I’m the only GM I know who ran a Kult game outside of a con. From there, I’ve had more than a few attempts at being 100% in game development – both board and computer. I’ve never met an RPG which I didn’t provide my own twist or a board game that I didn’t want a house rule. Once I moved to Boston, things really started shaping up for me (with the GameMakersGuild.com) and other opportunities.

Aerjen: I’ve loved playing games and being part of the gaming community for as long as I can remember. I first started out designing games when I went to college and around that time I founded a board gaming club in Amsterdam. When I moved to the US about two years ago, I became a member of the Game Makers Guild and really enjoyed playtesting the games of other designers and getting feedback on my own designs. When I became a co-producer for the Boston Festival of Indie Games and organizer for the Game Makers Guild, I realized that this hobby of mine is more than just a thing on the side. Since last year I’ve started collaborating with other great designers (like Bob) and have been working on getting my games published. Los Cthuluchadores: Elder Things in the Wrestling Ring is the first of many projects.

What sort of mad inspiration struck you to combine luchadores with the Cthulhu Mythos?

Bob: A fun game and a bad pun. I was playing Guacamelee and thought, “There’s not a lot of avocados in this game.” I started playing around with puns and ran into Los Cthuluchadores… and after a few attempts at summarizing the game, Aerjen and I discovered the tag, “Elder Things in the Wrestling Ring” and from there, the ideas were pretty well-defined.

Aerjen: I have to give all the credit to Bob for this one. When he asked me to become a co-designer for his game, he had already come up with the theme. I thought (and still do) that it was hilarious and since I have come to know Bob as a great guy, I was happy to come on board.

The Kickstarter page indicates that the game plays for up to four. Are four-player games going to be tag team or free for all?

Bob: We have rules for both! There’s 3 and 4-player free-for-all, but my favorite is the 4-player tag team.

Aerjen: Like Bob says, we have rules for both variants. Only my favorite is the 4-player free-for-all. The insanity that ensues when taunting with 4 players, must be like what it feels like when Cthulhu kisses your soul.

The Elder Sign design in the game differs from both the star and tree versions people normally associate with the term. Where did it come from?

Bob: The eye-in-star elder sign is famously copyrighted – and justifiably so – so I didn’t want to go down that route. And I love the tree version, but it just doesn’t have enough pizazz for a Cthulhu meets Spandex game. And… I love Blue Oyster Cult. Buck Dharma and the band has a hook-and-cross symbol which follows them around. I made our own version combined with the formal tree version. Aerjen asked me to “roughen” the design so that it looked like a…

Aerjen: Let me finish that sentence… bit more like something that a caveman could have scribbled on a piece of rock.

The origami playing pieces are quite a unique concept. How did that come to be?

Bob: I have the best designer on my team – Lisa Corkum; we were playing around with flat counters and she just folded one up and dropped it on the table – from there crushing your opponents became REAL. She also designed the board from Aztec/Mayan combined symbology – and since some of the Cthulhu Mythos stories had a tie in to Latin America, it was a great fit.

Aerjen: Quick tip for the readers: you can really give your Cthuluchadores some extra spunk by playing around with the tentacles. I try and give each one I fold it’s own character.

The possibility of expansions is hinted at. Are there any details you’re willing to reveal at this time?

Bob: Absolutely! we have 2 expansions which we’d like to add to the Kickstarter. First is “El Lodo sobre Aztlan” – the Ooze over Aztlan – which supercharges ooze (better attacks and defense) and add surprises like the Folding Chair of Doom! The second is Cultos Innombrables (Unspeakable Cults) which improves that gameplay of the Spectator Arena with your cultists.